I’ve been pondering the term “first world problems” a lot lately, mostly because so many people banter about it on Facebook and Twitter. When they do, they are usually trying to make some point about how your problems aren’t really very serious compared to those who are starving and suffering all over the world. When they post these little quips, it has the effect of making you feel like you are a selfish jerk for daring to complain about whatever isn’t going so well in your life. So I am going to go on record today and say that this treatment is neither sensible, fair nor just. Yes, there are people all over the world that are suffering a lot more than you are and you’re issues pale in comparison if we look at things only in their context. What I mean is that if we choose to look at those who are suffering due to starvation, disease, or poverty as the only measuring rod of what “real” struggle is, then yes, we have it good and they are the only ones in the world who truly suffer. But in truth, that’s an unfair way to view suffering because your life has context of it’s own. Now before you accuse me of not caring about the poor…look, no one will argue that there is a sort of suffering in the world that deserves great pity and deserves our attention and assistance. We should make every effort as a “first world” society to ease the suffering of those in the “3rd world”…not arguing that. At Refuge, we care deeply and sacrifice much to care for the poor. But again, your life has context of its own.
Perhaps the knowledge of someone suffering more than you makes you feel better about your lack of pay, car problems, trouble with your kids, broken down appliances, or whatever else is going on in your life, but I seriously doubt it. The FB’rs and Tweeters would use their 140 characters to make you feel bad that you dared to be annoyed by your life’s problems when they themselves all have their moments where they struggle with their own “first world problems” and complain about it in their inner-dialogue. It’s all about context. Because someone is suffering some tragic fate in Africa or the Middle-East doesn’t make the fact that I’m upset today that my car is in the shop and I don’t make enough money right now to get it fixed, leading to struggling to get my kids from school on time any easier. Knowledge of the hurting in the inner-city doesn’t make it any easier to live paycheck to paycheck with bills behind. Nor does the reality of other’s sufferings make it easier for me to deal with the struggles I have raising my daughter to be a good person. In my immediate context, these are very real struggles and sources of real stress and pain…and yes, I have a right to be bothered about them. Yet 140 characters tell me I have no right to feel pain or complain about my struggles.
Will we fall back on Christ’s words when He told us “not to worry because tomorrow has enough worries of it’s own”? Then why do we only contextualize that passage to mean it only applies to our piddly little “first world problems”? If we want to be biblical about it, we must see that it applies to ALL problems for Jesus cares about ALL problems whether the context makes them out to be big or small. Of course, Christ was talking specifically about worry which makes the heart sick, but let’s be totally honest; we can and will work hard to live life without worry, but sometimes that scripture doesn’t make it any easier to go through suffering right? We are human after all. We get stressed, afraid, and experience real pain whether the problems are first or third world in nature. So I guess what I’m saying today is that you have every right to experience your pain, stress, and struggle because your problems matter. They matter to God and in your context they are very real and pressing problems. Those worse off than you don’t make your problems meaningless or painless. Rather than wrongly contextualizing, thinking it will somehow alleviate someone else’s problems, try a little understanding and love. Try a little compassion because when you wrongly contextualize you belittle someone’s problems and only end up making them feel guiltily for daring to have feelings. Give that some thought before you use your 140.
Just to be clear for those who think I’m denying the very real pain and suffering of people in destitute parts of the world. You could not be farther from the truth. These folks deserve to have those of us in more fortunate parts of the globe give our aid. At Refuge we are passionate about serving the poor, homeless, and those who are marginalized by society. In a global context there are many who are far worse off than I am. I get that and am in no way marginalizing this fact. But this fact should never be a source of guilt for having my own struggles back on the homefront. And we shouldn’t use our 140 to shame others.